Second year charm

After the Chargers streak-busting victory over the Colts in 2005, everyone was quick to heap praise on rookie first-round picks Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo. The two combined for a dozen tackles and three sacks on the day, and so the credit was rightly due. But it was the big game by another rookie, Vincent Jackson, that helped propel the Chargers to victory and the hope remains it is a sign of the future even with the recent trade for Rashaun Woods.

Vincent Jackson had only one career reception coming into that game, but that total had tripled by the time the day was done. Still, it wasn't his reception total that was so impressive. It was the magnitude of the catches he made, and the way he worked to bring them in, that was so encouraging.

Jackson's first catch came on the game's initial third down, with the Chargers backed up after a false start penalty. With the Chargers needing eight yards for a first down, Jackson and Brees hooked up for twenty. Later, with less than a minute left in the first half, Jackson made a twenty one-yard grab that brought the Chargers down to the Indianapolis four-yard line. They would score four plays later, leaving the Colts only 15 seconds left to work with before halftime.

Although the forty one receiving yards were nice, it was the manner in which Jackson worked for them that was most significant. He displayed impressive body control, and was aggressive in coming back for the ball. In the Washington game three weeks prior, Brees was intercepted when going long for Jackson, who could have prevented the pick if he would have stopped his route to come back and fight for the ball. Apparently, it's a lesson learned. Jackson came back for both of his receptions on Sunday.

"He has one quality for a player with a man his size which is to drop his weight and change direction route running without losing speed," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I am pleased with his progress."

Given Jackson's rare combination of size (six-foot-five, 241 lbs.) and speed, he has the potential to become the team's best pass catcher outside of Antonio Gates. In fact, both he and Gates have a lot in common. They are both too big for defensive backs to cover, too fast for linebackers, and both helped refine their games on the hardwood.

Jackson's basketball skills showed that day, when he used his large frame to block out cornerback Jason David while making his first snag of the game. If he can continue to use his basketball skills in such a Gates-like manner, he may become the Chargers' top receiver sooner than later.

After all, Keenan McCardell is heading down the wrong side of 35 and Eric Parker is a solid complimentary receiver in the offense. Newcomer Rashaun Woods has potential but we won't know how he has developed until we see him in camp. Jackson's rise up the depth chart could come quicker than anyone expected from the former Northern Colorado Bear.

"We are encouraged by the progress Vincent Jackson has made," head coach Marty Schottenheimer reaffirmed.

Also accelerating the process is that Jackson has potential as a dominating run blocker. He uses his size and tenacious attitude to overwhelm smaller cornerbacks. In an offense in which everything is set up by the run, his play in the running game can't be underestimated.

Given this impressive body of attributes, as well as Jackson's impressive body for the position, it's only a matter of time before people start talking about that other member of the Chargers 2005 draft class. Merriman and Castillo have no doubt been special, but if the Colts game was any indication, Jackson is well on his way down the same path to stardom and with injuries behind him he is looking forward to the 2006 season.

"It'll be nice to get on the field and see what I can do," Jackson admitted.

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